Tag Archives: Finnish textiles

Blue Skirts and Golden Belts: aa112403

In October 2003 I had the chance to visit the fascinating exhibit of ancient Finnish textiles, in Tampere, Finland.
The Sinihameet kultavyöt
exhibit featured both textile fragments found at various archaeological gravesites from the Viking Age in Finland, and modern recreations of those textiles.

Weavers and textile artists at Pirkanmaan Kasi ja Taideteollisuus Ry
and Opintotoiminnan Keskusliitto put together the exhibit, wove the fabrics and produced a book about these textiles.

sinihameet-kirja.jpg, 8648 bytes

Sinihameet kultavyöt
Suomalaisia muinaispukuja

Viking Age in Finland

Very few textiles have been found at archaeological sites, because textiles decompose fairly easily. Also cremation was an early practice. At the Finnish grave sites, partially preserved textiles have been found in the women’s graves, because the women wore jewellery and ornaments made of bronze. The bronze gases helped to preserve the textiles. Because the men’s graves had swords and tools made of iron, their clothing did not survive the dampness. The use of bronze ornamentation was unique to Finland and other Baltic regions’. In Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe, gold and silver were predominant.

At the archaeological site, the placement of the clothing and textiles were carefully recorded. From these, the purpose of the clothing could be determined. The textile fragments were analyzed for fibre content, yarn twist and sett. Where the fabric had deteriorated, the dust residue was analyzed to determine its content.

Viking Finnish dress

Finnish dress closeup

Most fabrics found at the gravesites sites were made of lambs wool. Few samples of linen fabrics survived, because linen and other vegetable fibres decompose more rapidly in the acidic environment. Although fabrics were classed as ‘linen’ or flax, they could also have been hemp (hamppu) or nettle (Nokkonen) as both of these plants also grew in the region. Specific fibre analysis has not been done to determine which type of vegetable or bast fibre was used.

Plied Yarns

”Yarns were spun with a Z twist. Some fabrics also used plied yarns with an S twist. The yarns would have been spun on a drop spindle (Värttinä). In some parts of Finland the single ply yarn was used only as weft, with the plied yarn being used as warp. In other parts, both warp and weft were a single ply.

Linen and Wool

Generally, the clothing consisted of a ‘linen’ undershirt with outer clothing woven of soft wool. Blankets or cloaks were also found that were made of coarser wool.

Warp-weighted Loom

The fabric itself would have been woven on a warp-weighted loom.
Where with today’s floor looms fabrics usually consist long and narrow warps, fabrics on a warp-weighted loom could have been quite wide, but short. Fabrics would have been woven to the length of the finished garment. While weaving, the edges were strengthened with woven bands using a thicker yarn.

Colourful Tablet Woven Bands

The clothing was trimmed with colourful woven bands, that were used as ties or belts. Although the fabrics at first glance looked brown, on closer study many of the band trims used red and blue yarns. Because yellows and greens tend to fade more easily, it was difficult to see whether these colours had also been present. By using chromatography analysis one could determine the dyeplants that were used. However, the expense of this type of analysis is prohibitive.

Paivatar Tablet Weaving Cards
Paivatar Tablet Weaving Cards

Please check my PaivatarYarn Shop on Etsy for my new tablet weaving cards.


Blue was the most used colour in many of the fabrics from the gravesites. Blue may have come from Dyers Woad, Värimorsinko (FI) Vejde (SE) Isatis tinctoria, but this is questioned by archaeologist Juri Peets because woad is not native to Finland and was exported from Southern Europe in 1000 A.D.

Blue from Mushrooms

With iron or tin mordants, yields greens and blues.
Hydnellum suaveolens, Tuoksuorakka
Sarcodon imbricatus,
Yields blues if it is old and its top has darkened.
Hapalopilus rutilans, Okrakaapa
With ammonia, yields strong, colourfast violet blue shades.
Cortinarius violaceus
Produces violet blue shades, and with an iron mordant, dark greys.


Red could have been dyed with madder (Rubia tinctoria) which was used in central Europe since 800 A.D. but it is unknown whether it was imported to Finland during the Iron Age. Red can also be produced from native plants such as:
Northern Bedstraw Galium boreale,
Hedge Bedstraw Galium album mollugo, Paimenmatara
Lady’s Bedstraw Galium verum,
Dyers Woodruff ‘Asperula tinctoria,

To produce reds from these plants much more of the dyestuff is needed for strong colours than with madder, approximately twice the weight of dyestuff to yarn. Because only small amounts of yarn were dyed – for the narrow bands, it is possible that the local plants were used. By varying the temperature and acidity of the dyebath, different shades of reds, oranges and violets could be produced.

St. John’s Wort Hypericum perforatum,
The stems and flower buds of the St. John’s Wort can produce orange/reds. To get stronger colour soak the stems & buds in alcohol for a few hours before placing in a dyebath. Reds from Mushrooms The Dermocybe family of mushrooms produces oranges and reds. Additon of an iron mordant gives darker shades and almost black. With older mushrooms, longer cooking times or the addition of ammonia can give lilac shades. Low heat or the addition of acid or vinegar gives warm reds.
Dictyophora cinnabarina

Cortinarius semisanguineous

By studying the archaeological records, fabric remains, and descriptions recorded in books such as Kalevala, weavers designed the clothing, using modern yarns that were available to them.
Pictures of the Dress.
This site is in Finnish, but click on the images, for detailed views of the cloth.

The she stepped to the shed-hill
stepped inside the shed
opened the best chest
slammed the bright lid back
and she found six golden belts
and seven blue skirts
and she put them on
she decks her body.


She set the gold on her brows
the silver upon her hair
the blue silks upon her eyes
the red threads upon her head.

Kalevala # 4

Finnish Viking age dress

Tablet Woven Finishes
How to weave a tablet woven braid onto handwoven fabric.

Kalevala Books

The Kalevala: Or Poems of the Kaleva District
Kalevala translation by Professor Francis Peabody Magoun

The Key to the Kalevala
UK:Key to the Kalevala

The Songs of Power: A Finnish Tale of Magic, Retold from the Kalevala (Ancient Fantasy)
For ages 10 and up: songs of the many adventures of favorite heroes: the mighty, magical men and women of ancient days.
UK:Songs of Power

The Cosmic Kalevala Book One: The Saga of Lost Earths

..More Books of the Kalevala..
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Raanu: aa083000d

Raanu weavings use a cotton warp and a wool weft. The wool weft yarns are generally quite fine and many colours are used to create the complex designs of this weft-faced rep weave.


Woven by: Kaija Haikara
36″ x 65″
Warp: Cotton
Sett: 6 epi
Weft: wool singles
24 ppi

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Warp: cotton
Sett: 12 epi
Weft: rayon boucle

Close-up photo of Raanu shown above

More about Raanu Weaving

Craft Museum of Finland

Eija Koivumaa
Eija Koivumaa weaves weft-faced Raanu, takana, doubleweave pickup and other Finnish textiles.
Raanu Minimalist Design
Raanu or Ryijy
Raanu – Historical Weave Structures

More Finnish Textiles:

Doubleweave Pickup
Rya Rugs
Wall Hangings, Raanu
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Weaving Books: Projects

The Treasure Chest of Swedish Weaving
Complete pattern drafts for rugs, curtain, table cloths, towels, bedspreads.
UK: Treasure Chest of Swedish Weaving

Favorite Scandinavian Projects to Weave: 45 Stylish Designs for the Modern Home
A collection of 45 different furnishing textiles: colorful blankets, fanciful table runners, classic curtains, and embroidered hand towels.
UK: Favorite Scandinavian Projects to Weave

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Finnish Rya Rugs

Finnish Textiles – Rya Rugs
Here are a few examples of rya rugs. The pile for a rya rug or tapestry is woven or sewn onto a wool backing. A rya is traditionally hung on a wall as a tapestry and not used on the floor as it is not durable for floor use.
The sett of the warp and number of weft rows and knots per inch can vary in a rya, depending on the level of detail of the design.

Finnish Rya Rug
Finnish Rya Rug

45″ x 65″

Warp: linen

Sett: 6 epi

Weft: 2 ply wool

horizontal – 3 knots per inch

vertical – 3 knots per inch

6 rows Tabby between each row of knots

Pile length – 1.5 inches

Finnish Rya Rug - "Hopea Pajukuja"

Finnish Rya Rug – “Hopea Pajukuja”

Silver Willow Lane

Warp: linen

Sett: 10 epi

Weft: 2 ply wool

Horizontal: 5 knots/inch

Vertical: 3 knots/inch

3 strands yarn per knot

Pile length: 1 inch

More about Rya rugs
< History of the Rya Rug
How to Fix a Rya Rug
Hemp Rya Tapestry
How to Weave a Rya Rug

More Finnish Textiles:

Doubleweave Pickup

Wall Hangings, Raanu
Rya Rug Books
Hooked rugs & ryas; designing patterns and applying techniques
Techniques of Rya Knotting
Rugs: Braided, hooked, rya (Pm-832)
Handgenoopte C.U.M. Rya Tapijten

Poppana: aa083000

During a trip to Ontario, I had the opportunity to view some wonderful examples of
Finnish textiles. Here are some photos of them.



18″ x 40″

Warp: Cotton

Sett: 12 epi

Weft: Poppana yarn

18 ppi

Poppana “yarn” is made from pre-woven strips cut on the bias. The fuzzy edges of the
cloth strips are used as part of the design element, creating a chenille type of effect
to the weft. Poppana is a traditional Finnish technique and can be used for making table
linens, clothing or other unique fabrics.

Poppana can be ordered premade or you can also make your own with either recycled or
new cloth (cottons, silks or wools) Cut fabric, such as sheet material, on the bias, into
1/4″ – 1/2″ narrow strips. It is used as weft and can be woven in tabby or twill

Poppana yarn is generally sold on small disks that can be inserted into a special poppana shuttle for easy weaving. If you don’t have such a shuttle, you can wind the poppana yarn onto a rug shuttle instead.

More Poppana Weaving

The Finnish Tradition of Poppana Weaving
Unica is a Finnish design company that uses Poppana cotton fabric for coats, jackets and other quality clothing.

A Swedish site that has woven items as well as Poppana and other yarns. An email address
is supplied, so you can write to them in English, requesting information on their yarns.

Toika carries special shuttles for poppana weaving.

A yarn shop in Finland.

Webs also carries poppana yarn and shuttles.

Weaving with Rags

Doubleweave Pickup


Wall Hangings

Weaving Books
The Weaver’s Companion (The Companion Series)
The Weaver’s Companion (The Companion Series)
Learning to Weave
The Big Book of Weaving: Handweaving in the Swedish Tradition: Techniques, Patterns, Designs and Materials
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XXL Extra Large Weaving Loom Kit (89cm x 87cm) | Professional Tapestry Loom

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Vintage Table Top Loom

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History of the Rya Rug

A Rya tapestry is similar in nature to a knotted Persian carpet. It is
comprised of woven rows of weft alternating with rows of knotted yarn. The rya knots are similar to a Ghiordes knot in Persian carpets but are spaced farther apart than those in a Persian carpet and are much larger and longer.

Ghiordes Knot
Ghiordes Knot

In Norway, ryas have been found dating back to the early 1400’s. They were used as bed coverings, the knotted side being closest to the body providing warmth. In the castles in Sweden, they were used as bedding throughout the 16th
century. The ryas at this time were mainly of solid colours, natural white, grey, black and yellow. In the 17th Century, the rya was no longer considered bedding for the upper nobility, though the servants and lower class still used ryas.

Rya Rug - Nordic Bakery
Rya Rug – Nordic Bakery

In Finland, the rya developed further with the use of colour and pattern. Decorative ryas date back to the 1700’s. When a young couple married, the rya was used as a prayer rug during the wedding ceremony. The bridal couple would kneel on the rya as they exchanged their wedding vows. The colourful tapestry was then displayed in their home as a reminder of their wedding day and became a family heirloom to be passed on to future generations.

The rya in Finland was larger, made of 1 or 2 pieces, sewn together. Not everyone was a rya weaver as it took skill,
strength and a large loom to weave the heavy tapestry. There were rya weavers, who travelled throughout the villages and towns with their looms. As wedding day plans arose, a rya was commissioned to celebrate the coming event.

Rya designs were usually colourful geometric shapes and florals and quite often had images of the boy and girl to be wed. Also a Tree of Life image signifying the family heritage. The Rya was also dated with the year of the marriage. Different regions of Finland had unique designs and colours specific to the area using the local plants for dyes.

Ryas are still made today, using both traditional and more modern designs. In Finland, schools have rya competitions with children designing their own rya. Ryas can also be sewn onto a prewoven backing.

3 To 150 Rya Rug
3 To 150 Rya Rug

I often get asked: How do you tie a rya knot on the loom? Here’s how.

Rya Rugs
Some links to rya tapestries follow:

Rya Ikkuna 64
Ikkuna 64

Ikkuna 2015 Rya Rug
Ikkuna 2015 Rya Rug

Rya Rug Tapestry Books

Hand-made C.U.M. Rya Rugs

Techniques of Rya Knotting

Hooked rugs & ryas;: Designing patterns and applying techniques